Humans dreamed of flight for thousands of years, and the crucial steps in this timeline fueled advances that carried us into the air, and even to the moon.
Before 800 BC The human impulse to fly as archetype: Daedalus and Icarus, a father and son in Greek mythology, fly with wings made of wax and feathers, until Icarus flies too close to the sun—melting the wax—and falls into the sea.
1000-500 BC Kites invented in China are used to carry men scouting enemy troops.
400 BC Bamboo-copter emerges as a toy in China, composed of feathers attached to a stick that flies when spun rapidly.
200 BC Chinese sky lantern is the first hot air balloon.
852 AD In north Africa, Armen Firman purportedly uses the first parachute to leap from a tower and land with only minor injuries.
1488-1514 Italian Leonardo da Vinci designs his first flying machines—modeled after bird wings—but he never builds them, and modern aerodynamics suggests they would not have flown.
1680 Italian Renaissance man Giovanni Alfonso Borelli fuels the search for a better engine when he claims that human muscles cannot support flight.
1783 Daniel Bernoulli, a Swiss mathematician and physicist, publishes his lift-creating principle that took on his name as the Bernoulli Effect.
1783 The French Montgolfier Brothers burn wood and old shoes to power the first unmanned balloon flight.
1793 Diego Marín Aguilera—later named the Father of Aviation in Spain—flies his bird-like glider into a crash landing, and perhaps it is in his best interests when the townspeople burn it, calling it demonic.
1799 English engineer Sir George Cayley comes up with the idea of the fixed-wing aircraft.
1804 Cayley builds and flies the first successful glider.
1869 English publisher Frederick Marriott flies his steam-fueled Avitor Hermes Jr., the first unmanned aircraft to power itself into flight in the United States. As Scientific American reports: “With the first turn of the propellers she rose slowly into the air, gradually increasing her speed until the rate of five miles per hour was attained.”
1900 Orville and Wilbur Wright complete their first glider flight.
1903 The Wright Flyer flies for 12 seconds over a length of about one third of a football field, making it the first powered, manned, heavier-than-air, controlled flight.
1905 U.S. government shows no interest in The Wright Brothers’ offer of its flight experiments and machine, replying that the government is not interested in “financing experiments.”
1907 U.S. government’s opinion about flight changes when President Theodore Roosevelt sees a description of the Wright Flyer in Scientific American, and asks Secretary of War Taft to look into it.
1909 Louis Blériot, a French engineer and innovator, completes the first flight over the English Channel in the Blériot XI.
1914 First scheduled airline debuts in Florida, employing the Benoist Aircraft Company’s flying boats to shuttle passengers between St. Petersburg and Tampa.
1914 Aerial combat begins when Allied and German pilots shoot at each other with pistols and rifles. 1917 United States enters World War I with only 35 flying officers and 54 air-worthy planes.
1918 German fighter pilot Manfred von Richthofen—top ace of World War I widely known as “The Red Baron”—is fatally shot down after 80 air combat victories.
1921 U.S. Army General Billy Mitchell leads U.S. planes in a test attack that bombs two battleships off the coast of North Carolina, and from 6,000 feet sinks them both in minutes.
1927 Charles A. Lindbergh flies the Spirit of St. Louis nonstop across the Atlantic Ocean. His landing in France draws a huge crowd.
1929 U.S. Air Force pilot James H. Doolittle “flies blind,” completing the first flight, including takeoff and landing, relying entirely on instruments and not on visual cues.
1932 American Amelia Earhart becomes the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.
1939 The first practical helicopter, Sikorsky’s VS-300, flies for about 10 seconds.
1947 U.S. Air Force Captain Charles “Chuck” E. Yeager flies faster than the speed of sound in the rocket-powered Bell X-1.
1949 The Lucky Lady II, a Boeing B-50A, flies around the world nonstop.
1958 More passengers cross the Atlantic Ocean by plane than by ship for the first time.
1961 The Hawker Siddeley P.1127 aircraft makes the first successful vertical and/or short takeoff and landing.
1964 American Geraldine “Jerrie” Fredritz Mock flies solo around the world—a first for a woman—in a single engine Cessna 180.
1964 Lockheed SR-71 “Blackbird,” a high-speed, high-altitude reconnaissance jet, completes its first flight.
1969 When Apollo 11 takes the first humans to the moon, astronaut Neil Armstrong carries a piece of muslin fabric from the left wing of the original 1903 Wright Flyer and a section of wood from the airplane’s left propeller.
1969 Boeing 747 “Jumbo Jet” makes its first flight.
1976 The Concorde offers the first supersonic passenger flight.
1979 Human-powered Gossamer Albatross crosses the English Channel.
1984 Airfone lets passengers phone home
1994 Boeing 777 is the first aircraft designed entirely on a computer.
1997 Malaysia Airlines sets the record for the longest nonstop flight, from Seattle to Kuala Lumpur.
2010 Solar Impulse is the first solar-powered plane to fly nonstop for more than 24 hours.
2011 First hybrid electric plane—developed by Siemens, Diamond Aircraft and Airbus—flies in Vienna, Austria.
2013 A remote-controlled F-16 breaks the sound barrier in its maiden flight.
2013 Airbus A350 takes to the skies.
2014 British firm Reaction Engines promises its Skylon aircraft, to begin testing in 2019, will fly anywhere on earth in four hours or less.
2015 U.S. Federal Aviation Administration allows Amazon to test delivery drones.